Sadly Richard Wayne Penniman, otherwise known as Little Richard, died the other week. An influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades, he was nicknamed “The Innovator”, “The Originator”, and “The Architect of Rock and Roll”. His musical style was characterised by frenetic piano playing, pounding backbeat and raspy shouted vocals and laid the foundation for rock and roll. His innovative emotive vocalizations and uptempo rhythmic music also played a key role in the formation of other popular music genres, including soul and funk. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genres from rock to hip hop; his music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations to come.
We owe innovators a lot in wherever they focus their passion, skill and risk taking qualities. No more so than in music. Little Richard follows in the footsteps of musical game changers like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Janáček, Kern, Gershwin, Britten, Anderssohn, Rutter, Lennon and McCartney and many more.
I’ve chosen the song ‘Jenny, Jenny’. It’s a testimony to the fact that less is more. Little Richard doesn’t sing much more than the song’s title and a few bridging phrases, but he makes so much out of so little. Sounds simple but it isn’t: a real gift, a true artist and a lot of skill.